‘We didn’t stop’
MBJ Airports CEO says company uses COVID-19 downtime to fast-track projectsThursday, June 11, 2020
BY ANTHONY LEWIS
MONTEGO BAY, St James - Chief executive officer of MBJ Airports Limited, Shane Munroe, says the company, which operates the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, is using the downtime at the facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to implement a raft of projects under its US$112-million expansion programme.
The country's borders were closed to all incoming travellers on March 24 after an outbreak of the COVID-19 locally. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has since announced that the island's borders will reopen to international travellers, next Monday.
Munroe told the Jamaica Observer West last week that even though the airport had remained open to cargo, and repatriation flights for people leaving the country, the company utilised the dormant traffic flow period to continue with some projects.
“For some projects, we have had to differ the start time. However, we saw this [the COVID-19 pandemic] as an opportunity to do some projects that would be disruptive otherwise, that would have been disrupted during the time that we have a lot of traffic,” Munroe argued.
“So, we didn't stop. We did the departure expansion. We have done some remedial work to our airfield, and other projects that we used the opportunity during the downtime to advance in terms of [the] project schedule. So, for us, this [pandemic] was a challenge, but also an opportunity as it relates to construction.”
He noted, however, that a decision will be taken by yearend on the start-up dates for the expansion of the immigration hall, the outbound security area, arrivals area, customs hall and the terminal to the western end of the airport.
“What is certain is that before the end of the year, we will have a clearer picture of the timeline for implementation. So, we need a clearer picture on what some of the government decisions globally will be, and once that becomes clearer, we will be able to have a clearer forecast and projection for that,” he told the Observer West.
In the meantime, he said, projects such as the expansion of the departure area, which will provide additional space for the airport's retail offerings— that started this earlier year— will continue, and is scheduled for completion by the first quarter of 2021.
The expansion of the taxiway and the $234-million shoreline protection project, aimed at securing the long-term viability of the airport, are scheduled to end by July.
MBJ is also installing a one-megawatt solar plant on the roof of the terminal building, as a part of its sustainability programme. The project which has already started is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Munroe said feedback, aimed at improving passenger experience received from users of the airport over the years, has led to the implementation of several other projects which do not involve infrastructural improvements.
One such project, he said, is the integration of the Jamaican culture into the passenger experience, aimed at “kick-starting” the arriving passengers' vacation.
“As they [passengers] go through the terminal, the music, the artwork is going to be a big part of what we do. And, we want the passengers' journey and vacation, really to start here when they arrive. That is our focus as we see ourselves differentiating or being different from other international airports. We want to have our own identity and some of Jamaica's culture must be infused into that,” he argued.
Munroe, a native of St James with over 16 years in the aviation industry, was appointed chief executive officer for MBJ Airports in February, replacing Dr Rafael Echevarne.
A Cornwall College alumnus, Munroe, who has a master's degree in aviation and management from the University of New South Wales, joined the MBJ's team in 2001 and has worked in various departments and on several major capital development projects.
Prior to his promotion as CEO, he was the chief technical officer who oversaw the development of the proposed airport's five-year modernisation programme.
In 2003, MBJ Airports took over the operations of the Sangster International Airport, which has been selected at the World Travel Awards for 12 consecutive years, since 2008, as the Caribbean's leading airport.
Last year, the airport, which prior to the COVID-19 pandemic provided direct employment for more than 5,000 people, processed roughly 4.8 million passengers.
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